Olivier Douliery/ Stringer

Pourquoi le protectionnisme pose problème

PORTO – On peut être sûr d'une chose au sujet du prochain président américain : il ou elle ne sera pas très favorable au libre-échange. La candidate démocrate probable, Hillary Clinton, a une attitude plutôt réservée, notamment au sujet du Partenariat transpacifique. Son probable concurrent républicain, Donald Trump, est franchement hostile aux accords commerciaux qui donnent libre accès aux marchés américains. Rompant avec l'attitude moderne des républicains, il envisage de taxer à hauteur de 35% les voitures importées et les pièces détachées produites par Ford au Mexique, et à hauteur de 45% les importations en provenance de Chine.

Les économistes sont quasiment unanimes à dire que ces mesures auraient des conséquences macroéconomiques désastreuses. Le rejet du libre-échange détruirait la confiance et pousserait les investissements à la baisse. A titre de représailles, les autres pays imposeraient eux aussi des taxes douanières, ce qui affecterait les exportations américaines. Nous serions alors dans une situation analogue à celle de 1930 après l'adoption par le Congrès de la loi Smoot-Hawley qui augmentait les droits de douane. Elle a été signée par un président républicain lui aussi, Herbert Hoover, tombé en défaveur.

Le fait que les économistes soient d'accord ne signifie pas qu'ils aient raison. Quand l'économie est piégée dans une trappe à liquidité (dépression de la demande, stagnation ou baisse des prix, taux d'intérêt sont proches de zéro), la logique macroéconomique habituelle ne s'applique pas. Cette conclusion concerne aussi les conséquences macroéconomiques du protectionnisme en général et de la loi Smoot-Hawley en particulier. C'est ce que j'ai démontré dans un article universitaire écrit - j'hésite à le dire - il y a 30 ans.

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